The Arizona Instructional League (henceforth referred to as "instructs") starts today. It's a league with a lot less fanfare than the Arizona Fall League, which will also start soon. You won't see the same head to head competition among the games top prospects. Really, you won't even see competitive games at all.
Instructs, however, can be where a prospect makes a big leap forward. As the name implies, players are there to learn. They hone existing skills, get and/or develop entirely new ones. Occasionally you'll see guys who missed some work due to injury or other reasons.
All eyes will likely be on top prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, but just as important will be the progress of some of the Cubs pitching prospects. Here's a look at those pitchers and what to expect.
Jose Arias, 21, RHP - Up until now, Arias has been working on locating his fastball, which can reach 95 mph. He'll be 22 next season, so developing his secondary pitches will be a key as to whether the can speed up his time table and become something more than a relief pitcher. He'll likely start in Peoria unless he shows great improvement in instructs.
Dallas Beeler, 23, RHP - An overslot signing out of the 2010 draft, Beeler (23), throws a low 90s two-seamer which can produce groundballs when he's on, as well as a curveball and a pretty good change. He also has shown good control, but there's not a whole lot of swing and miss to his game (4.6 Ks/9 IP at AA Tennessee). He looked poised for a breakout this year but it didn't happen, and the fact that he's here despite being the only pitcher on this list to pitch above low Class A implies the Cubs still have some hope that they can unlock the promise he showed last season.
Paul Blackburn, 18, RHP - The most polished of the two high school pitchers the Cubs took in last year's draft, he could start in low A ball at age 19 if he shows progress with his curve, change, and command. As a guy who should have solid stuff across the board but not plus=plus stuff, Blackburn profiles more as a mid-rotation type than an ace.
Gerardo Concepcion, 20, RHP- A lost season as he didn't show the velocity or command expected and then contracted mono to end his season early. It's hard to consider him a top prospect right now despite the $6M bonus but he'll get a chance to show this past season was an aberration.
Nathan Dorris, 21, LHP - At times showed a good 90-91 mph fastball and a solid curveball at Southern Illinois, but he was inconsistent and he fell to the 17th round. Pitched well in relief for both AZ and Boise.
Corbin Hoffner, 19, RHP - Not really a well-known name going into the draft but the Cubs like his size (6'5, 235 lbs) and potential to add velocity. They drafted him in the 13th round and he paid immediate dividends, posting a 0.71 ERA with 4 walks and 13 Ks in 12.2 innings.
Pierce Johnson, 21, RHP - Perhaps the Cubs best pitching prospect, Johnson finished with some strong performances as the go-to starter during Boise's title run. He'll be 22 in May and the Cubs will want to move him quickly. The Cubs considered him a first round talent who slipped because of injury concerns and 3 mediocre starts after returning late in the season. But he showed no ill-effects after signing. Can reach 96 and throws a high 80s cutter, a hard breaking ball, and a developing change. He has #2 starter potential and could skip a level if he shows well.
Trey Lang, 20, RHP - Lang threw up to 96 mph with a nasty slider prior to getting drafted and lasted until the 6th round primarily because he was raw and teams projected him as a reliever. The Cubs seem intent at giving him a chance to start and he did lose some velocity in that role (91-92), but he'll have a chance to improve his stamina and develop an offspeed pitch this fall.
Dillon Maples, 20, RHP - A high profile overslot signing in 2011, Maples hasn't been healthy enough to show why the Cubs made a $2.5M investement in him yet. He did pitch this year and showed the ability to miss bats but that was mitigated by extreme wildness. He has the makings of 2 plus pitches (mid 90s FB, hammer curve), but command-- and health -- are obviously the keys with Maples.
Chad Martin, 22, RHP - Martin is huge at 6'7", 240 lbs and has a solid fastball (91 -93, 95 mph peak) to go with that size. The rest of the 10th round pick's resume needs a whole lot of work. Throws both a curve and a slider, both of which were inconsistent, and he lacks command. He profiles as a reliever but some don't think he has the aggressive disposition for a late inning role. He's a project, but you can't teach arm strength... or size.
Carlos Martinez, 21, RHP - Another big pitcher (6'4", 230 lbs), Martinez was a lower profile signing out of Cuba this year ($250,000) but had a lot of success, albeit at rookie-level Arizona. He has a low 90s fastball but both his curve and change look to be average at best. He needs to refine those secondaries this fall to take a step forward.
Ryan McNeil, 18, RHP - Lots of mixed opinion coming out of the draft on McNeil as a raw pitcher who had all kinds of trouble repeating his delivery. The Cubs think they may have a steal here, however. McNeil is still growing into his body and the team likes his athleticism and feel he has the ability to improve quickly as he matures physically. He has the potential to be a big-bodied mid-rotation type innings eater. He showed a lot of promise in AZ this year with a 1.35 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning.
Juan Paniagua, 22, RHP - The Cubs biggest non-Cuban international signing this year, Paniagua has a smooth, effortless delivery that generates heat up to 96-97 mph to go with a power slider. The change is rusty and I imagine he'll be working on that quite a bit down in instructs. Along with Johnson, he may start as high as Daytona if he shows progress this fall.
Stephen Perakslis, 21, RHP - An under the radar signing, Perakslis showed a good fastball that sat at 92-93 and reached 95 when he was promoted to Peoria for his last appearance. He hasn't shown a breaking pitch but the Cubs feel blister problems in college contributed to him going primarily with his fastball. He does have an average change-up and if he can show a good breaking pitch this fall, it's possible the Cubs could try him as a starter.
Starlin Peralta, 21, RHP - A tall, rangy pitcher, I saw Peralta hit as high as 97 this year and in his last start of the season, he was able to maintain 94-96 into the 6th inning. He also flashed a wipeout slider at times. Profiles as a reliever but the Cubs will likely want to see if he can get a feel for a change-up that could keep him as a starter long term.
Anthony Prieto, 18, LHP - Slightly built at 5'11, 170 lbs., Prieto showed a big fastball as a prep, reportedly peaking at 95 before getting hurt. The Cubs didn't give him a whole lot of innings to protect his arm and he hasn't shown anywhere near that velocity since. If he does not regain that velocity, he does show potential for solid secondaries to go with good command, though he didn't display that at AZ after signing despite some good results. The Cubs should get a better idea of what they have this fall.
Austin Reed, 20, RHP - I can't quite figure out why Reed isn't better than he is. At times he pitched extremely well in Peoria but at other times he got lit up. He has good size (6'3", 200 lbs), a fastball that can touch 95, plus a solid slider and change, but yet doesn't miss as many bats as he should. Maybe the Cubs instructional staff can unlock some of that potential and get more consistent results from Reed.
Duane Underwood, 18, RHP - Underwood has been both a model of potential and inconsistency, not just as a Cub but he confounded scouts all summer, causing him to slip to the 2nd round despite occasionally hitting the high 90s to go with a knee-buckling curve-- but also sometimes throwing in the high 80s with a curve that spins up there and screams, "hit me". At AZ, he reportedly threw about 92-93 toward the end of the season. He's athletic, and that always gives you hope that he can repeat his mechanics and reach that high ceiling some feel he has. Looks like a boom or bust type of pitcher.
Ben Wells, 19, RHP - Wells avoided Tommy John surgery but did not regain the velocity he showed this spring, which some say had him hitting the mid to upper 90s. I saw him in his last appearance and it was more like 88-91 and he struggled to locate his slider. He needs to get some work in and build back that arm strength, command, and potential for 3 pitches that the Cubs saw in the spring.
Here's the rest of the roster, which I'll go over tomorrow...
Wilson Contreras, Chadd Krist, Rafael Lopez, Justin Marra, Lance Rymel.
Arismendy Alcantara, Gioskar Amaya, David Bote, Stephen Bruno, Jeimer Candelario, Ben Carhart, Marco Hernandez, Jesse Hodges, Carlos Penalver, Jacob Rogers, Tim Saunders, Dan Vogelbach.
Albert Almora, Yasiel Balaguert, Shawon Dunston Jr., Trevor Gretzky, Trey Martin, Bijan Rademacher, Jorge Soler.
Filed under: prospects